If Akihabara is the official, attention-hungry side of otaku tokyo, nakano is its opposite, both geographically and temperamentally. It’s quietly going about its business without fanfare, yet attracting thousands of dedicated manga and anime fans by the mere strength of its offerings. Nakano is just a five-minute train ride from shinjuku, yet it couldn’t be more different from its glitzy, naughty neighbor. Actually there was a time when nakano was considered trendy and many celebrities called it home. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, the ward became the center of a revitalization project that transformed it into a fancy district. 1966 saw the completion of nakano broadway, a luxury apartment complex with a four-story shopping mall and six more floors of apartments. The building cost a then-record-breaking six billion yen and featured a garden and pool on its rooftop. Then in 1973 prime minister tanaka kakuei himself inaugurated nakano sun plaza, a 21-story cultural and amusement complex featuring a concert hall, a hotel and a wedding hall.
However the good times were not meant to last, as in the ‘70s and ‘80s Nakano was gradually overshadowed by hipper areas like Kichijoji further down the Chuo train line. It was around this time that avant-garde anime circles began to move into the area, with bookstore TACO ché distributing cutting-edge comic magazine Garo along with underground literature. Meanwhile, in 1980 former Garo contributor Furukawa Masuzo opened in Nakano Broadway a second-hand manga store called Mandarake. This tiny shop (only 6.6 square meters wide) proved so successful that more and more otaku outlets followed Furukawa’s example, turning Nakano Broadway into one of Japan’s major centers of otaku activity, probably second only to Akihabara.
The JR Chuo Line conveniently divides the area in two parts: the sleepy residential south side and the fun-loving north side which is where you should head. Cross the plaza in front of the station and go into Sun Mall, a 240-meter-long glass-covered shopping arcade whose 100 plus stores sell everything, from food and booze to clothes, shoes and watches. As soon as you exit the mall you’ll see the entrance to Nakano Broadway in front of you. Don’t be fooled by all the nonotaku shops on the first and basement floors that sell clothes, watches, medicines, electronics, food, etc. Most of the fun awaits you on the second-to-fourth floors. At this point you have two options: If you don’t have a lot of time, plan your visit in advance and zero in on a few shops. Otherwise you can just leisurely roam the aisles, take in the unique atmosphere and discover unexpected delights. The mall’s layout is rather haphazard and the hallways have been arranged with the apparent purpose of making you lose your way. However if you are not in a hurry your visit will become the strangest shopping expedition of your life. Just try to avoid weekends and holidays when its aisles and stores become seriously crowded. Also, remember that most otaku shops (unless otherwise noted) are closed on Wednesdays.
Even if your interests go beyond browsing and shopping, Nakano’s advantage is that everything is close to the station and concentrated in a very small area. Most of the bars, cafes and assorted entertainment listed in this book, for instance, are on either side of the Sun Mall/Nakano Broadway axis. The area east of Sun Mall is especially worth exploring because its shop- and bar-filled narrow streets (sleepy during the day, quietly alive at night) have retained a nostalgic retro atmosphere that will give you a fairly good idea of how Showa-era Japan looked and felt.
With a mini stage and a cute Cheerleading Army, these karaoke bars give you a chance to become the star of the show. Guys pay 2,300 yen for the first hour (including an all-you-can-drink menu!) and 1,100 yen for each 30-minute extension, while gals get a 600-yen discount. And they have a 500-yen discount for first-timers. For an extra 220 yen, then, you can get the bar’s cosplaying girl unit to cheer you up while you are singing.
Karaoke box chain Joysound has come up with a new way to attract otaku fans. The fifth floor of this particular location features three special rooms devoted toEvangelion, each one with a different decor (you can check them out online by clicking on their number). Two more specialEvangelionrooms are available at their Shibuya branch. Groups of at least four people need to reserve these and other rooms online.
If you can speak some Japanese this is a good place to kick back with a beer (there’s no cover charge) and share your love for all things otaku with fellow anime fans and the friendly staff. This bar is particularly famous for its DJ booth that anybody can rent on weekday afternoons (1500 yen/h including one drink) when there are no events scheduled (check the calendar online). Assorted figures and models and a big screen showing anime complete the decor.
Not content with having not one but three galleries inside Nakano Broadway, hip artist Murakami Takashi teamed up with Fuglen (a small chain of bars and cafes from Norway) to open his own joint. When you get tired of shopping you can take refuge in this stylish bar and sip one of their interesting coffee and tea concoctions surrounded by Murakami’s colorful and manga-like paintings.
If Akiba is Otaku Central, Nakano goes one step further into uncharted territory. This bar, for instance, manages to be cute and weird at the same time. Created by kaiju (monster) artist Pikopiko and adult video director Nakano Takao, it’s arguably the only place in Tokyo devoted to Japanese monsters. Even its resident hostess Mucho is a kaiju! The place is a cafe until 18:00 and turns into a bar in the evening. There’s no cover charge but they have the usual one-order-per-hour system. And for 500 yen, Pikopiko will teach you how to make your own cute monster (reservation required).